One of Twelve Steps
“I thought we were going out for dinner.
I’ve been waiting.”
“You’re drunk. I can’t go out with you now.”
She could barely stand and stank.
She’d been drinking all day.
The drink made her hate.
The booze brought out the rage,
She was ready to die to make a statement.
Oh, it boiled over, like a chemical reaction.
Like quick lime and water.
She overflowed with self–hatred.
It was volcanic.
My arrival lit the fuse. The hatred
couldn’t be contained.
She belonged to the IRA.
She was ready to die for a cause.
When she said she had a friend who offered to go down
on her, I took my leave. It was time.
Every confession, a taunt, an effort to humiliate,
if not herself, then me.
Old age invites humiliation but being disgusting
is a choice. It’s a fashion statement,
a great way to get back at a snotty son,
a way to prove him wrong.
He doesn’t come from a good family and there is not
a goddamned thing he can do about it,
the little shit. She’ll show him.
He wants people to think well of him.
She’ll expose him as a fake.
She’ll show everyone his family is trash.
He thinks he’s so refined with his fancy degrees.
She’ll get everyone to see him for what he really is,
the son of Catskill Mountain trailer-trash,
the children of potato farmers,
the kind of people who prostitute their daughters
to New York businessmen.
They are sent to the City to join typing pools.
They spend half their time in the pool
and half on their knees like the girls in Bangkok.
That’s the so-called middle-class
from which he descends, little clones
of Clarice of the FBI, that lost girl
with nightmares of bleating sheep.
Yes, one hides behind one’s shined shoes,
one learns to talk fancy.
College is America’s finishing school where
we learn to get along.
One learns to eat brie and drink white wine
when what we crave is draft beer
and a basket of pretzels.
We learn to wear slippers and don silk jackets.
This is how some people live, sure,
but there are many more
who’d prefer to loll about the house watching TV,
half-naked, looking more like an Italian immigrant
on his stoop, a stud in a wife-beater.
The veneer of respectability is thin,
we see it now; it’s out in the open.
We got it with the Clintons;
we see it in Trump.
It is easier to hate than to see ourselves
for who and what we really are.
The money doesn’t disguise what we are or
where we’re from.
Only the Kennedys had enough to hide their smell.
How much perfume can one wear?
JFK knew what he wanted from the WH typing pool;
Jackie called them the White House dogs.
It all comes out. Bill Clinton left the back door open.
The Arkansas state troopers procured the typists.
This is what made a man of Hillary. Women learn to adapt.
It’s the men who don’t understand.
The prostate goes.
The plumbing breaks.
The penis drips.
It isn’t pretty.
Sagging boobs are the least of it.
Being young sucks but for other reasons.
The balding head started balding years ago.
I was prepared for it.
But not for this.
No one told me the knees would go.
Everything falls out and what doesn’t,
Doesn’t work well.
When your body goes, you’re through.
People today go, “I’m done,” but they’re not done for.
If they were, they wouldn’t say so.
Love is over: you’ll never pat an ass again.
You want to touch and be touched in turn,
But let’s face it: you’re old and stinky.
You used to count on that chance to get closer.
What’s missed is not the fornication but the flirting.
I for one see no reason to get together,
No point at all to communicate.
In fact, if they’re not helping with the tax returns,
What’s the value of all this interaction?
Not even for a ballgame; better just flip on the TV.
Bodily secretions, special strains of sweat,
Rare sovereign odors once confined to one’s nether regions.
Little spills don’t add up to much, yeah, sure. But the
Throat clearing, sneezing, and nose dripping are constant.
Death is so close I can taste it.
The final feet, the final door:
One works one’s way towards the finish.
Can one find a hope, or a bit of encouragement?
The only sign I have is one tiny hair on my nose.
Perhaps tomorrow I’ll find two.
I tell my comfortable friends the world is about to end,
But instead of saying thanks, they tell me what I read is wrong.
They tell me to ignore the bad news. Seek confirmation, not denial.
My friends tell me to head to the nearest bar for a drink.
They’ll meet me there if I agree to stop repeating the headlines.
Join us, they say, in our belief that all is well, everything, that is,
Except that awful man, that man in the White House, who puts ketchup
On his steaks. That man there who sings the Star-Spangled Banner
In reverse is a man averse to shock treatment; a man, in short, who wears
A red tie but doesn’t know his place. A wise guy in a nation
Of bright women, wonder women, who wear their capes over their heads,
So, when they fly, they forget their fear of flying.
This man they say enjoys women as women, while they see themselves as men.
They demand the right to do the dirty work. They want to be called the next
Time the lights go out. Give them a hard hat, not a hard-on. They will climb
The ladder, they will drain the swamp. After all, how many women does it take
To screw in a light bulb? Surely no more than men in dresses. This man
is intoxicated with power. He trains his guns on his rivals. He is looking for desperate
Housewives to do the chores. They have kicked open all the doors. The vermin
Rush in. This year, they welcome bats; last year, rats. They’ll poison the lot.
Ahoy, our savior is coming. He is a man who promises to fix everything, a man
Of tomorrow arrives today. He asks for a deck of cards. All hearts.
Not Maga but Mega, he is a mega-star, intent not on improving our world
But restoration. He represents hope not promise. He’ll be eaten alive,
Standing as he does at the backdoor. The storage compartment is full.
The Titanic is on the way. It has been rebuilt. The band plays on. The
Presidents of America’s grandest department stores are on board, along with
The inventor of turquoise, standing for perfection, poised for disaster.
They demand to hear the women stop crying. They request from everyone, silence.
This cannot be obtained. The man, my mentor, cries instead. It is the end.
Red Roses Are Not Always Red
An old lover becomes a stranger.
This photo she sent shows fear in broken eyes.
Seeing her makes me want to cry.
She holds a hand-drawn Valentine, a pink heart
on construction paper colored with red crayons.
I see the heart, torn, but behind it, I see those eyes.
What has frightened this once fearless girl?
Is it the past, something she has seen, or is it
something approaching? She was always a seer.
She complained to me of once having been
admired for her huge breasts. Has she let this,
a feeling of being used, destroy her peace of mind?
I know I had no impact.
To me, she showed indifference. She was ambitious,
devising plans to excel. Along the way, she retreated.
She once described herself to me as a Jew on the move.
She laughed. She was incorrigibly bright, a cross between
Sylvia Plath and a heavy-weight boxer. I didn’t stand a chance.
I wasn’t quick enough. I drove in the slow lane, always
ready to pull into the nearest rest stop.
When we were together, she’d bang her head against the wall.
She could take a blob of clay and squeeze it into art. She’d
pinch it into a sad ballerina. She had a touch. When she smiled,
children in Sudan danced. It ended badly. This was before
people went, “I’m done.” Civility prevailed. She said, “I’d like
to kill you.” I remember everything she ever said. This was
before there were computers. No email, just death threats.
That crooked smile did not belong to a champ, not by a long
shot. It was a fin de siècle grimace, the smile of a Freudian
patient no longer able to walk. We’d gone together to Holly
-wood. She, to masked balls; me, to the edge of the dust bowl.
I had lunch with Rita Hayworth. The end was nigh. Theatres
dimmed their lights in anticipation. Only I survived.
She stalled. She broke down. The engine’s roar sputtered.
She came to hate those who felt sorry. She was unwilling
to accept blame. It was an act of nature, she contended,
not a matter of having given up. I say something frightened
her. She had moved to planet Hollywood and someone made
a crippling prediction. “You’ll never get into heaven.”
Her mother promised her spiritual immortality and the chance
for worldly success. Someone said she had to choose. I’d wager
she chose God. She folded her tent, eager to live in the desert.
She accepted heart-ache over damnation. She could live
with disappointment unlike the rest of us. She’d arrived
in Hollywood expecting a prophet but landed an agent.
Like Philip Marlowe, she insisted on sleeping alone. As
with the famous detective, another eye-witness to ruin,
she figured it’s better to be by oneself than to live as a pet.
I wonder who offered her the job. She always had too much
pride to worship at someone else’s feet, let alone agree to lick
them. She thought of Rabbi Waxman. She remembered what
he said when she was six.
You Can’t Improve on Nature
Should we have pandas or not? Man decides.
Should I take her as a bride or not, used to be
the question. Since when did we gain this new
power to design the universe? It’s hard
enough for me to decide what to wear to bed.
Should we change the spark plugs is more my speed.
I can’t quite see what I have to do with rabbits.
Why would you ask? I’m not building another arc.
Don’t leave such matters to me and while you’re at it,
please don’t take these things upon yourself.
In other words, we should leave the fucking place exactly
as we found it. Should have nothing to do with it.
Mountains are not a matter of moral imperative. Neither
are field mice. If you care to kill one, be my guest, but
you have a lot of nerve asking me if their time has come.
Leave it alone, won’t you? You’re not happy with your sex,
fine. Turn yourself into a frog, but don’t ask Harry Potter
to make the lilies disappear. This entire enterprise is fine …
just the way it is, no room for improvement. What makes the
powerless powerful is not exterminating the vermin.
Panda bears or bats are not the problem, but this search for paradise
might be. This ever-present urge to improve the universe puts me
on edge. I’d rather go back to the pyramids, or further, back to the caves.
Back to nothing would be preferable to this, unless it entails making
us less destructive. I’d like to sign the petition. I vote to leave it be.
About the Author
David Lohrey’s plays have been produced in Switzerland, Canada, and Lithuania. His poems can be found at Expat Press, Cardiff Review, FRiGG, The Drunken Llama and Trouvaille Review. His fiction can be seen at Dodging the Rain, Terror House Magazine, and Literally Stories. Three new anthologies in 2019 include David’s work: Universal Oneness (India), Passionate Penholders (Singapore), and Suicide, A Collection of Poetry and Prose (UK). David’s first collection of poetry, Machiavelli’s Backyard, was published in 2017. His newest collection, Bluff City, will appear this fall, published by Terror House Press. He lives in Tokyo.